- Associated Press - Monday, January 4, 2016

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - Although the revitalization of Rapid City’s downtown core west of Fifth Street has been widely praised, a certain segment of merchants and backers have wondered how far the downtown vision stretches.

The East of 5th District, a fledgling network of business and property owners who live, work and play in the area, is essentially saying “Hey, what about us?”

Andrea Schaefer, owner of Barefoot Dance Studios on Fifth Street, said the East of 5th District was formed to promote the area as a burgeoning shopping and social center with the same growth potential the now vibrant area to the west had several years ago.

“Once people see what’s going on,” Schaefer said, “hopefully we can get them to start physically walking across Fifth Street.”

The gleam and freshness of such west-of-Fifth features as Main Street Square and Memorial Park Promenade offer a vivid contrast to the older, even rundown look of some buildings and properties to the east. Although innovative makeovers have worked there, the image is going to be a challenge for East of 5th District.

The group, with a membership of about 40, is a registered nonprofit with a board of directors that has been meeting sometimes twice weekly, Schaefer said.

Door-to-door visits inviting merchants and property owners to attend informational meetings for the group revealed almost 200 businesses in the district.

“There are way more businesses here than we thought,” Schaefer told the Rapid City Journal (https://bit.ly/1MGXRhj ). “We were shocked.”

That’s another positive for proponents of the overall downtown area, who have multiple reasons to expect further outward development and revitalization.

A $24 million reconstruction of Mount Rushmore Road, projected to be completed in 2018, will better invite visitors into downtown, albeit not close to the east of Fifth Street area.

But city planners are looking to link the central business district to other anchors, including the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, about a mile to the east of the downtown core, and take advantage of the recently completed $31 million Pennington County courthouse and administration complex.

The Rapid City Council in August authorized spending nearly $200,000 for a Denver-based consulting firm, Progressive Urban Management Associates, to develop recommendations for a new master plan for the greater downtown area.

By next spring, the firm is expected to provide recommendations for a comprehensive master development plan for the downtown area and beyond.

“The focus is going to bring all kinds of development downtown,” said Julie Schmitz Jensen, of the Rapid City Convention and Visitors Bureau. “People are going to see the potential of this area.”

She added, “The actual footprint of downtown extends from West Boulevard to East Boulevard. There’s a lot of land to do some pretty darned exciting things.”

Yet that stubborn image problem remains. Jensen acknowledges the historic old-town ambience of many of the buildings in the district, but also adds, “Some of them will have to come down.”

And that is likely to happen with at least one symbol of the rundown part of the district set to disappear.

The sale was completed this month of the old Imperial Inn, a 90,000 square-foot, 119-unit hotel that had been owned for more than 50 years by the Kurylas family of Rapid City.

New owner Ray Hillenbrand, who helped develop downtown properties including Main Street Square and his Prairie Edge Gallery, said he plans to demolish the old motel. His plans to redevelop the property haven’t been announced.

The East of 5th District backers seem to be defying the popular image. A statement on the home page of the group’s website, www.Eastof5th.org , touts the district as having its own vibe and identity, and even a sense of humor:

“We’ve been waiting for your hands and your head to join us. Together, we will cut and paste and repurpose everything around us. We’ll dust off the old and weld it to the new. We have everything we need, and just enough ignorance to believe that anything is possible.”

If the Imperial Inn is a symbol of some of the old that should go, there are examples of existing landmarks in the district attesting to that welding of old and new.

Instead of being torn down, the former longtime car dealership called Motor Service Co. has been revived as The Garage, a cooperative office complex and entertainment venue, hosting events ranging from informational town forums to an eclectic variety of intimate concerts by modern jazz, folk and bluegrass musicians.

The Creamery Mall offers both professional office space and retail shops, including a vintage and new record store, new and secondhand clothing stores and a craft beer brewery in the red brick ambiance of the old Fairmont Creamery.

Sam Papendick, co-owner and brewer at the Hay Camp Brewing Co., in the mall, said his business is positioned to take advantage of the district’s growth potential and supports the East of 5th group.

“They’re just trying to create a network between us all so we can help each other,” Papendick said. “There’s really not much room for downtown to grow anywhere else except east of Fifth Street.”

And that means east all the way to Mines, and the engineering and science university is all too happy to help complete the link to downtown, according to Mines president Heather Wilson. At least two Mines students represent the college in the East of 5th group, and university staff members with an interest in community development also are volunteering to help, she said.

“These are young leaders we are trying to develop as engineers and scientists, but as leaders of engineering and science, we expect them to give back to the community in which they live,” Wilson said.

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Information from: Rapid City Journal, https://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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